Thursday, July 20, 2006
Saints releasing veteran free safety Dwight Smith
By Len Pasquarelli
The New Orleans Saints apprised agent Drew Rosenhaus on Thursday that they have abandoned their efforts to trade starting free safety Dwight Smith, one of their steadiest defenders during a dismal 2005 season, and instead will release the veteran defensive back after just one year with the franchise.
The move comes after New Orleans officials spent much of the offseason attempting to trade Smith, and just one week before Saints players are scheduled to report to summer training camp at Millsaps College near Jackson, Miss.
A five-year veteran, Smith will become an unrestricted free agent once his name officially appears on the NFL internal transactions network, which could come as early as Thursday afternoon. While the Saints apparently could not find a trade deal to their liking, it is expected that Smith will have multiple suitors as a free agent.
One franchise that probably will pursue him is Tampa Bay, the franchise with which Smith began his NFL career. It will not be surprising if Smith has a new home within two or three days.
The former Akron standout, a third-round pick of the Bucs in the 2001 draft, is the kind of safety many teams covet -- an interior defender with cornerback-level coverage skills. In fact, Smith started his career with the Bucs as a standout nickel cornerback and then was moved to safety 2003.
Smith, 27, provides a defense with tremendous flexibility because of his hybrid skills and his ability to move out into the slot and cover wide receivers.
As arguably the Saints' most notable veteran addition in 2005, Smith signed a five-year, $15 million contract as an unrestricted free agent, and the deal included a $3.5 million signing bonus. The four years that were remaining on his New Orleans contract were for base salaries of $1.2 million (for 2006), $1.6 million (2007), $2.5 million (2008) and $3.5 million (2009). Given the palatable level of those salaries for the next two seasons, it is surprising that no team stepped up and traded for him.
In his only season with the Saints, Smith appeared in 15 games, all starts, and registered 86 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, seven passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
It has been rumored that Smith might have experienced some personality conflicts with some members of the New Orleans management team. It is also possible that with a new head coach (Sean Payton) and new defensive coordinator (Gary Gibbs), he simply did not fit into the Saints' plans any longer.
New Orleans has dramatically reshapes its safety corps in the last 14 months. The Saints used second-round picks on Josh Bullocks in 2005 and on Roman Harper in 2006. A player the coaches regard very highly, Bullocks started 13 games as a rookie last year. New Orleans also signed veteran Omar Stoutmire as a free agent in the offseason and acquired former second-rounder Bryan Scott in a trade with Atlanta.
For his career, Smith has appeared in 78 games and started 49 of them. He has 306 tackles, one sack, 14 interceptions, 45 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and two recoveries. In Tampa Bay's victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, Smith returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .